We all tend to take our morning cup of coffee for granted – the flavour, the texture, the aroma. However, for astronauts working in space, being able to drink a cup of coffee poses several problems.
In space, the force of gravity is far, far less than on earth, and this makes drinking rather difficult. If you use a conventional coffee cup, then your coffee will simply float away in a ball of liquid. You could probably drink from the floating ball of coffee, but that could result in coffee all over your face – not the best way to start the day!
Until now, astronauts have used drink bags to prevent their drinks from floating away, but this, while practical, takes a lot of the enjoyment out of drinking coffee. Imagine not being able to smell the rich coffee aroma as you drank.
Then a team of researchers at Portland State University, who had been studying how fluids behave in space, heard that the Italians were going to send an espresso machine to the Space Station for an Italian astronaut working there. They realised that many of the things that are so important about espresso like the crema and aroma, are heavily influenced by gravity and would be missed in space. So they set out to design a cup that would allow espresso to be properly enjoyed in space.
The Birth of The Space Cup
The team approached NASA with their idea, and the space administration agreed to let them develop their ‘space cup’ and test it on the space station.
Their design exploits the properties of surface tension, shape, and material to encourage the liquid within the cup to flow in a specific pathway, and stopping it from escaping from the cup. They used the drop tower at Portland State University to test their design, filming how the coffee inside the cup behaved, before it was sent into space.
At the Design of the Year Awards 2017, the Space Cup won the product category. Currently, there are twelve Space Cups in existence, six of them are here on earth, and the rest are up on the Space Station. Now astronauts can properly enjoy their coffee in space.